Deacon Peter LeTourneau receives the Book of the Gospels in 2018 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

Joyful Celebration of the Growth in the Church

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Father David BonnarLife, in many ways, is all about growth, which might best be defined as progressive development that yields fruit of one kind or another. One of the simple joys of life is watching growth take place. And growth can often be ritualized in celebration.

For many years, my dear dad had a vegetable garden. Since it was situated next to the back porch, he had a front-row seat in watching the mystery of growth occur. He would enjoy looking at the garden every day to assess the progress. There would be great joy when he could pick a ripe tomato from the vine. He would often celebrate that growth by making that tomato part of his sandwich. The joy was further heightened by the fact that he had something to do with the tomato coming to full fruition, inasmuch as he tilled the soil, planted the tomato vine and periodically watered it.

Thirty-two years ago, I received my first priestly assignment. In that appointment letter, I vividly remember the bishop referring to my assignment as “a portion of the Lord’s vineyard.” The takeaway from that letter was that I was being sent to work in the vineyard to collaborate with others in bringing about growth for the good of the Church.

Throughout the years, every sacramental encounter has been a moment of growth, a simple joy to be celebrated. Of course, it is never about me, but about how God has used me and every priest to affect growth.

There have been not just simple joys but special joys that come with being a priest. For example, at various times in my priesthood, I have watched four different men from my places of assignment be ordained as priests of Jesus Christ. What a great day those ordinations become, not just for the parish and the diocese, but for the priesthood.

The joy is just as special and the growth just as real when a man is ordained to the permanent diaconate. On Saturday, that joy was added to as three men from my current assignment were part of a class of eight ordained permanent deacons for our diocese. What an honor it was for me to vest one of the men at the ordination. The day after, each of the newly ordained deacons from our grouping celebrated their first Mass of Thanksgiving as a permanent deacon. The first of these three Masses was celebrated by a native son of one of our two parishes (the parishes will be merged on July 1, 2020), who happens to be the son of the newly ordained deacon. Two of the three deacons have been assigned to what will be the merged parish of our current two parishes.

It is really hard to put into words the joy of that day, not to mention the hope for the future. Even in a pandemic, the Church continues to grow. What was so apparent was not just the love of the Church manifested in these men, who have been in formation for the last five years, but it was crystal clear that these new deacons exuded true love for their wives, who have accompanied them throughout the journey. Each one of them publicly declared their deep love for their wives and family.

I found this moment to be so renewing, not just for the parish and our diocese, but also for the first Church, the first vineyard — namely, the family where we learn so much about what it means to grow.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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